Caroline Clemmons writes romance and adventures. Her earliest made up adventures featured her saving the West with Roy Rogers. Her career has included stay-at-home mom (her favorite job), newspaper reporter and featured columnist, assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal, and bookkeeper. She and her husband live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued pets. When not writing, she enjoys time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales, and genealogy/family history. Her latest releases in print and e-book from The Wild Rose Press include THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, OUT OF THE BLUE, HOME SWEET TEXAS HOME. Her novella SAVE YOUR HEART FOR ME is available as a download only. Her backlist of contemporary and historical romance is now at Smashwords and Kindle.
Romance Western Style
by Caroline Clemmons
As Suzie Grant pointed out on July 25th, dime novels endeared western lore to the nation, even spreading throughout the world (read Julie Garwood’s PRINCE CHARMING). City people followed the exploits of legendary heroes in the West. The fact that most of the tales were pure drivel didn’t matter a whit. The lure was cast, and many took the bait and headed to America’s West.
What began my personal love of the West? In the evenings, my dad often told stories of his family coming to Texas after the Civil War. I couldn’t hear enough of those tales. Even after I’d memorized them, I urged him to retell each one.
Next came the movies: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lone Ranger, Hoppalong Cassidy. Have I forgotten any? Personally, I wanted to ride the range with Roy, saving the West from the bank robbers and rustlers I was certain plagued the land. We watched Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rifleman, Maverick, and others and never tired of them. Then life intervened, as it did for all would-be cowgirls and cowboys.
As an adult, I discovered Louis L’Amour. Don’t hate me, but you can have Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books. You gasp, and I hope you’re not gathering tar and feathers! I readily admit she was a lovely person (I met her once in Houston), and her books were engaging. We owe her a huge debt for popularizing historical romance novels. As well, I love the books of Jodi Thomas, Patricia Potter, Linda Lael Miller, Celia Yeary, Paty Jager, and many more. (Celia, Paty and I are in a team blog http://sweetheartsofthewest.blogspot.com.) However, Louis L’Amour is my author hero. I’ve read each of his books at least twice, and several of them too many times to count.
I usually choose to write about 1870-1890 and the time of the Texas cattle drives. Yes, I also write contemporary cowboys, like the one pictured with this post, but none are more appealing to me than those of the late 19th century. So many things fascinate me about this time period. The Civil War and Reconstruction were over, yet law and order was far from established. Men–and women–were often isolated and had to defend themselves and their families. If there was an area lawman, he was often too far away to depend on for immediate help.
When the Civil War was over, men returned home (if they still had one). In Texas and a few other states, many unbranded cattle who’d bred during the war ran wild. An industrious man could gather these and place his own brand on them, then drive them to market in Kansas. According to T. H. Fehrenback in his book LONE STAR: A HISTORY OF TEXAS AND THE TEXANS, cattle sold for two dollars a head in Texas in 1875, but brought ten dollars a head in Kansas. Since cowboys made the same wage per month and received the same food regardless of where they rode, it cost no more for a rancher to have his ranch hands drive cattle to market. Fortunes were built during this time!
The wealth didn’t come without cost. Danger lurked everywhere in the West, but on the trail hazards multiplied. Indians, rustlers posing as Indians, rustlers posing as lawmen, and a plethora of bad men wanted the benefit of others’ hard work. Then there were the natural disasters: swollen rivers, lightning storms, stampedes. Isn’t it a wonder any cattle made it to market?
Yes, you say, but there were no women on cattle drives. You’re right, you’re so right. Cowboys are a superstitious lot, and they believed women on a drive brought bad luck. In that way, cattle drives are far from romantic. It’s not the actual cattle drive that appeals to me, but the era. A young man with nothing could homestead land, gather unbranded cattle or buy a few head, and create a small ranch. With hard work and perseverance, he could expand. Of course, then he’d need a wife to share his life. They’d face trouble–it always came–and stand side by side to triumph. Well, that’s the way it happened in my novels.
Women from areas where most young men had died in the Civil War didn’t have to remain spinsters. They could travel West and marry, sometimes via mail-order arrangements. How many mail-order western romances have your read? I’ve read too many to count, but I still love them. There were wagon trains heading West (love those wagon train romances, too), then locomotives. By heading West, a single woman had an opportunity for a family of her own. I think I’d have risked it, wouldn’t you?
Reading about people who adapt to new circumstances, meet obstacles they’d never imagined, and triumph while finding a soul mate is very romantic. Who wouldn’t love a tale like that? Hand me that book by Debra Holland, would you? I’m in the mood to read more about romance under Montana skies.